I was called to Chicago for an assignment and it reconnected me to all of my favorite folks in what some call "Mississippi North". Through -1 and -3 temperatures, I managed to successfully complete my work and then do a little play. The conductor of my social time is usually "my Chicago Carl" who - with his busy schedule - made sure my evenings were chockful of fun, excitement, and diversity - as always: http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/chicago-without-ti-ti-can-it-be.html
On Thursday, we had late night supper and cocktails at Dublin's Pub on N. State Street. There, our good girlfriend Itika joined us. So good to see her.
On Friday, our Vince joined us and we let Calypso (http://www.calypsocafechicago.com/) feed us. Great Caribbean cuisine (and - oh! - those rum punches i.e. THE MARLEY!). Vince is always a wealth of new ideas, inspiration, and advice. Love to hang out with him!
On Saturday, Carl and I diverted to the Southside of Chicago for a midnight taste and a drag show. It was quite the neighborhood spot Club Escape (www.clubescapechicago.com). Then, Sunday, I requested a space where we could watch The Grammys (www.grammy.com/). Carl's friends Pierrre and Jerry who live on the Northwest side of Chicago (in an area called Bucktown) hosted. Pierre's boyfriend Larry was also in the mix. And we had the best time. Carl, who is such the cheerleader of everyone in his life, gathered all the guys around Pierre's computer - so he could show them my blog. Over fresh and tasty fries, chicken wings (both prepared in their kitchen), and pizza (from around the way), we were first entertained by that. Then, we enjoyed a less-than-spectacular TV presentation. Still, with the best steadily-flowing daiquiries I've ever tasted and the most enjoyable company I've been around in a minute, mediocre LIVE TV needed only to be a backdrop with periodical hightlights. I should point out that in the modest mix of talent, there were some moments worth mentioning. Firstly, you've heard me reference that my family's church is The United House of Prayer for All People (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2007/8/30/time-passes-quickly-here.html). Remember my run-in in New Orleans? Well, one of the "shout bands" from the kingdom The Madison Bumble Bees (from Winnsboro, South Carolina) participated in the Aretha-Franklin-led Gospel medley (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xh8lFT4Vr_Y). WHAT A BLESSING! It was very exciting for the members of the church. As I was working here in Chicago, my sister called with the word that they were to be on, but we didn't know they would be under such a spotlight. I have heard the Bumble Bees many times as they would often travel to the Savannah 'House of Prayer'. In our church, the shout bands are quite a ministry its own - moving the people to get their "Holy dance" on with bombastic style. When the Bishop would come to town, there would be a host of bands playing - one after the other, each known for their own sound and rhythm. There were so many of these bands, I didn't know who from what and what from who (keeping in mind that because I didn't 'grow up' (from birth) in the House of Prayer (since I was born in Tokyo and my parents traveled all over via my Dad's status in the Air Force)). With that, once we moved to Savannah (when I was eight), I was always a little disconnected from the 'culture' of it all. Still, I was close to it because my mom and siblings were into: "the bands"; "their members"; "their annointing" (in their role as 'shout bands'); "their bookings" (as House of Prayer bands -- from different branches of the church [all over the nation] are good for a periodic, national booking on television i.e. Kennedy Center Honors, Macy's Day Parade, Mardi Gras, etc.); etc. Ttruth be told, they are like 'closed-circuit' ROCK BANDS with GROUPIES to boot (within the kingdom)... and like I might spend hours talking about our DIVAS or favorite pop singers, my folks (mom, brother, and sister) might spend hours talking about the bands and other House of Prayer going-ons like it's "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD" or "ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT" (the appointments, the gossip, the services, etc.). Sometimes, the band members (of the many respective bands all over the kingdom) can even be perceived as the 'bad boys' of the church (a la sacred-BOBBY BROWNs or JODECIs, etc.). My brother - a member of the local Savannah House of Prayer band ("SOUNDS OF THE SOUTH" - also locally and nationally recognized) - is an example of one of those GOD-fearing, committed members who ANNOINT folks daily through their music. But sometimes their inner-struggles could sometimes lead them astray (though their LOVE of ALL THINGS CHURCH (HOUSE OF PRAYER) never waver. It's quite the IRONY that - from my observations (as a child) - perplexed me (since I didn't necessarily carry the SPIRITUAL connection that my brother, for example, did. He was older). But often, I felt like I was less close to my late mother because my brother was so involved in the church (via the BAND) and that was a place (the church) that she REVERED and in which she seemed most HAPPY and HERSELF. So, while I might have been SMART and always on top of my BOOKS (of which MOM was proud and just as CONNECTED), my brother (despite his rebellion) was/is heavily connected and - ironically - passionate about the CHURCH and its teachings (which was a conversation and bond that ONLY he and mom had. With that, I did still do things here and there in the church that played to my talents i.e. singing, speaking, etc. But because I was younger and - unlike a lot of Savannah native House of Prayer folks (READ: kids who grew up in the House of Prayer nationwide), I participated more sporadically (with my father insisting that school be my top priority, which meant I couldn't go to weeknight services all the time (if there was homework to do and to ensure I got my good night's rest - so I'd be alert in the morning for school). Other kids from our church could come out to services and just had to make sure they kept up with their studies. I sometimes was envious of them. In the end, no one way was better than the other. And different strokes for different folks. But I wouldn't change my experiences in The House of Prayer for anything. For me, growing up (kinda' in a SECULAR context... but always SPIRITUAL and LOVING THE LORD), some of those restrictions always made me ask questions of my elders? "Where is the money going?" "What happens if there's no House of Prayer in a particular city (It's nationwide - even in Chicago)? Are those people still going to heaven?" Mostly, my mother would tell me: "Stop being mannish and asking so many questions?" or "Just believe and have FAITH!" or "Stop being fresh and always thinking with your head?" or "Some things don't need to have answers." The intellectual that I was echoed the sassy entitlement of Beneatha in "A Raisin in the Sun" (which is scheduled to be presented on television - starring Phylicia Rashad, Diddy, Audra McDonald, and Sanaa Lathan [as Beneatha, who was originated by one of my favorites, the late Diana Sands] - www.abc.go.com/specials/raisininthesun/index). There's a scene that always resonated with me. Beneatha (of the Southside Chicagoans known as The Younger family) says: "Mama, you don't understand. It's all a matter of ideas, and God is just one idea I don't accept. It's not important. I am not going out and be immoral or commit crimes because I don't believe in God. I don't even think about it. It's just that I get tired of Him getting credit for all the things the human race achieves through its own stubborn effort. There simply is no blasted God-there is only man and it is he who makes miracles!"
After Beneatha had finished her argument, Lena slapped her across her face and made Beneatha say, "In my mother's house there is still God". Lena stressed out her points that she will not tolerate any ideas like that in her house, or as long as she's alive and running the household. Now, I never went that far in my rebellion nor have I ever felt there wasn't a God, but I've always been a questioning, intellectual type. And in the old days (and sometimes even now), there are certain things that the church does not condone. They haven't so much relaxed, but as we move on with the time, those concerns pop up less and less (unless they pop up more and more)... and when they do, they can take us back to the ALTER or the MOUNTAIN (and remind us on whose shoulders we stand around how we are to operate in the world as it relates to our FAITH and CHRISTIANITY - specifically in THE HOUSE OF PRAYER). It's quite a journey, but one I'm BLESSED to be on. I do know - despite my perhaps different views and choices - that I am HIGHLY FAVORED and GOD LOVES ME!!!!!
But I digress: I am talking about Chicago and THE GRAMMYs!!!! <That was sure a Freudian, therapeutic, slippery slope... but I won't edit it out! It might speak to someone as it was clearly speaking through me.>
Anyway! Back to the Grammys, Beyonce sprinkled her prelude to Tina Turner with a shout out to Diana Ross, Janet Jackson, and many of the other great DIVAS on whose shoulders she stands. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5X-OzbGYghc). But controversy reared its ugly head in the wake of B introducing Tina as "The Queen" (when "The Queen of Soul" was in the house). I didn't think it was a big deal at first, but my sister pointed it out during our day-after-Grammy review (and I don't want to put too much energy into a conversation around false "idols" when I just got finished talking about "God" (but such is "... the life of Riley..."). With that, my sister was on point because, "USA Today" is reporting (via Edna Gundersen and NABJ Arts & Entertainment Task Force Legacy Award recipient (2006) Steve Jones) that "The Queen of Soul" - in the house that night and recipient of her 20th Grammy - is not happy. In fact, her statement reads as follows: "I am not sure of whose toes I may have stepped on or whose ego I may have bruised between the Grammy writers and Beyoncé, however, I dismissed it as a cheap shot for controversy," Franklin said. "In addition to that, I thank the Grammys and the voting academy for my 20th Grammy and love to Beyoncé anyway." Grammy producers say they meant nothing by it. Beyonce's father and manager says he won't dignify it by even forwarding the message to Beyonce. "I'm not even going to take this to her," he said. "Something this ridiculous, it's childish, it's unprofessional. And it's a sad day when egos get bruised because somebody used the word king, queen, prince or princess." And both ladies are truly LIVING LEGENDS. Tina gave a brilliant performance (in her late '60s) comprised from her comeback hit album "Private Dancer" (for which she won the Grammy. My "Queen" Diana Ross presented it to her. She did "What's Love Got to Do With It" and my favorite "Better Be Good To Me". Plus, even Tina admitted on that same project that she wasn't the "Queen". Instead she said: "I Might Have Been Queen" - another strong track from that album: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1deMQMPrMs Moreover, Aretha sang for the gods (and God) in a yellow dress she sported in the audience of the "Kennedy Center Honors" on the night that "my" Diana was "Queen" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_E0bMGJNJXo) and (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0u3D-y5V_A) and (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DScsAt8vInA). There's room for them all on the throne... and when they get there, they better get on their knees and PRAY - thanking GOD for all his GRACE in affording them these amazing careers, right? (Well, the "Queen of my Heart" is my late, great mother whose name happens to be QUEEN! For real!!! Queen Elizabeth Bellinger Riley - R.I.P.
As the synergy of "old" and "young" goes, my Anthony ("young") highlights for me ("old") that the out-of-this-world "FEEDBACK" video by Grammy-award-winning Janet Jackson (not present at The Grammys - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AEBY8AX-C0 or DIRECTOR'S CUT: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jisifu561TA) seems to be inspired in part by an out-of-this-world photo shoot my Grammyless-though-nominated-many-times Diana Ross did during promotion of her first self-titled album in 1970. You can see some of the iconography on this You Tube video of "Dark Side of the World" - a mashup mix combining Diana's version with Marvin Gaye (featuring stills from those lesser-known photo sessions that look "Feedback"-esque). Watch closely (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxjUVhgt63I). Speaking of, Berry Gordy was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement nod.
And on Monday, there was no Diana nor Janet at the spot where Carl entertained me, but there was WHITNEY, CHAKA, TAMIA, and a host of other female impersonators at THE BATON (www.thebatonshowlounge.com). And because these "guys" were so good, there was no question who "The Queens" were on this night. Nicole Love Dupree, pageant queen of them all, even came from Atlanta to share her beauty and bling. Some of these ladies... ahem... men can really fool you, I tell 'ya. Just beautiful. Go girls! Guys...
Wednesday I had to get back to Ant. Valentine's Day was approaching... and there was someone to share it with...
And Thanks Carl! Happy Valentine's Day... to ALL the folks I LOVE!